For Once, I Was Right

June 29th, 2015

I have an almost perfect talent for mis-predicting the outcomes of elections.

But I got last Saturday’s election right. In fact, I predicted a year ago that Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina would be a strong candidate for Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. At the beginning of this year’s General Convention in Salt Lake City, the House of Bishops chose him to be our next PB.

The election was surprisingly lop-sided, indicating that our bishops recognize the need for a powerful preacher and charismatic personality at the helm. One person can’t do everything. But we can at least put our best bishop to the front of the line. Deo gratias. –J. Douglas Ousley

Not Breaking News

June 22nd, 2015

The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church begins this week in sunny Salt Lake City. The Convention is always held in the summer and always in cities that are cheap to visit in summer months; a few years ago, the convention was in very sunny Phoenix.

The main interest seems to be the election of a new Presiding Bishop. I’ve already given my opinion on that in a previous blog. Some bishops are predicting that my first choice of a year ago, Michael Curry of North Carolina, will be elected on the first ballot.

What is equally interesting is how there is no other main interest! The world’s largest democratic body, meeting for almost two weeks at vast expense, seems to have nothing much to decide.

That’s especially disheartening when every recent year’s statistics register declines in membership and attendance at American Episcopal churches. May God save his church. –J. Douglas Ousley

Makes the Heart Glad

June 8th, 2015

Among the famous buildings near Incarnation is Madison Square Garden. I was walking by there last week as a throng of college students in caps and gowns emerged with their families from what must have been a degree-awarding ceremony.

Although the diversity of the graduates was predictable–a number of different national backgrounds were represented, for instance–it was still touching to see them all. America really is the land of opportunity, and with all the media attention to racial prejudice, it was heartening to see the representatives of many peoples and nations as they prepared to contribute to our common future. –J. Douglas Ousley


June 3rd, 2015

This Sunday, we will celebrate the completion of our capital campaign to raise money to restore the spire of the church.

The program went surprisingly well–the work was done under budget and the funds turned out to be sufficient to do additional work that we thought we would need to do in five or ten years. This bonus saved our paying for a second scaffold to surround the church.

Now not only does the spire look pristine, but we have eliminated the sidewalk bridge that hid our church for over two years. So we are ready once again to invite people into our building and into our parish family. –J. Douglas Ousley

It Doesn’t Get Easier

May 12th, 2015

After I sent out an announcement of the death of a long-time parishioner and volunteer, Tom Southworth, a former colleague wrote to me: “I struggle with the number of losses associated with ministry (and realize the other perspective is gratitude for the number of connections.)”

I responded, “I totally agree about parishioners dying and you can be sure the grieving only gets worse.” As I walk around Murray Hill, I pass the apartment buildings of former members, now-deceased, and I think of how I still miss them. While the Lord provides new servants to do their work for the church and no one is irreplaceable, it is also the case that no successor is ever the same.

No one is exactly replaceable; losses are permanent. But, for that, thanks be to God! –J. Douglas Ousley


More Candidates

May 5th, 2015

Last Friday, the Episcopal Church web site announced the official nominees for the upcoming election of the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

I will have more to say about this election in due course. As I have previously observed, the Episcopal Church identity or “brand” has become more confused during the reign of the current Presiding Bishop. It isn’t currently clear who of the four nominees is most liberal or conservative–not to mention, most competent. It is clear which one is a person of color and therefore would be the first non-white elected to lead the Episcopal Church. That Bishop Michael Curry is an engaging and charismatic pastor and preacher can only help his candidacy.

There are no women on the list and thus the rumor has already started that the current PB has changed her mind about not running for a second term and will have herself nominated from the floor. One may hope and pray that after eight years of decline, the bishops of our church will choose a new leader. Like the other presidential campaign of 2015, this one promises to be difficult and highly contested. –J. Douglas Ousley

Many Years Ago…

April 28th, 2015

When I was young and I heard an older person begin a sentence, “Many years ago,” my eyes would glaze over and I would begin to tune out; I doubt that I ever heard the end of the sentence.

Now as an old person, I find that I often invoke the past myself! I hereby pledge to try NOT to do this unless absolutely necessary to save life and limb. The least I can do is to try not be a boring old person.

More important, always thinking of the past keeps us from living in the present. And the present of course is where God calls us to serve and to love. –J. Douglas Ousley

One Year Later

April 13th, 2015

Tomorrow night, April 14, the Empire State Building will appear in red lights, reminding the public that most of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists have been in captivity for one year.

Our congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney gave a press conference today outside the UN to urge Nigerian authorities and other influential parties to press for the return of the girls. Sadly, there is evidence that some of the young women have already been enslaved or killed or given as wives to jihadis.

Still, credit is due to the #BringBackOurGirls movement and other groups dedicated to end the violence against women. Our newly-appointed assistant, the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser, who arrives at Incarnation in mid-July has been a leader in this movement in the Diocese of New York. May we keep the poor girls and other Christian victims of terror in our prayers. –J. Douglas Ousley

Jesus Lives. Really.

April 8th, 2015

One of the most interesting theological developments of recent years has been the return to traditional beliefs about the Resurrection. Following in particular the British scholar, N. T. Wright, it is not at all uncommon for biblical critics, theologians, and philosophers to argue that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

To some laymen, this will come as a surprise because they assumed that is what all Christians believe. But since the 19th century, liberal scholars have interpreted scriptural references to the Resurrection as “myth.” Scientifically-minded philosophers have pointed out that people don’t naturally rise from the dead.

But against these and other arguments, Wright points to the uniqueness of the claim and the vast array of evidence that could be cited in favor of the belief that Jesus came back to life. For example, the disciples weren’t expecting Jesus to rise from the grave, so it is unlikely they imagined his appearances out of “wish-fulfillment.” (The Gospels themselves note the fear and amazement of the disciples when they see the Risen Christ.)

Add the way we can conceive of persons occupying bodies as analogous to computer software running hardware, and it’s easier than it was 150 years ago to believe that Jesus lives. –J. Douglas Ousley.

Onward and Upward

March 30th, 2015

Although we are in the midst of the solemn days of Holy Week, I was cheered to read that Malcolm Torry, a British expert on church growth and secularization has concluded from his research that long-standing pastors bring more change than new ones. Since I am especially looking forward to parish renewal as a result of Incarnation 2020, our recent strategic plan, I’m glad that–statistically, at least–my thirty years at Incarnation won’t be an impediment to change.

Speaking of change, the same author also says that congregations firmly rooted in the Bible are less religious than those that are not, and that congregations change most when they fear change most. Interesting food for thought for us at Incarnation as we await the celebration of the New Life we have in Jesus Christ. –J. Douglas Ousley